Lower Cowlitz Salish & a previously overlooked old Chinuk Wawa word for ‘school’?

Cowlitz Prairie Schoolhouse

Cowlitz Prairie kə́mtəks-pípa-háws (image credit: Lewis Co., WA GenWeb Project)

You ever have that feeling, “Yeah, I already wrote about that…Oh wait, I didn’t!” ???

In this case, I made one of my little “discoveries” and apparently just filed it away with no further thought.

Looking for a reference to it on this site, though, I see I was absent-minded. So here’s today’s scrap of new Chinuk Wawa…

In Lower Cowlitz Salish, I’d been looking at this one particular word for fifteen years without noticing it’s got C.W. fingerprints all over it:


Which means ‘school’.

Have you spotted the part of it that’s borrowed straight out of the Jargon?

That would be pipa, the Chinook Jargon word for ‘paper’, or more to the point, ‘writing’.

(Just as the name of the BC alphabet for this language, Chinuk Pipa, means ‘Chinook Writing’.)

Okay then, what does the rest of the word mean?

M. Dale Kinkade’s 2004 “Cowlitz Dictionary” observes that the first part the word comes from Cowlitz’s root púti, which Dale interpreted as ‘know’. The shift from to óʔ in the root signifies ‘Diminutive’, smallness, etc. Now hold that thought while we move onward.

Dale left the suffix l̓uł a mystery, tucking it away in his ʼUnclear Infixes and Suffixes” section. But to my eyes, this is definitely one of the versions of a frequent Salish suffix for ‘house; building’ and even for a generic ‘container’.

So: ‘(little-)know-paper-house’.

Meaning ‘(little-)knowing-how.to.write-house’.

Hmm! You can also say that in perfectly fluent Chinuk Wawa: kə́mtəks-pípa-háws, or, with the Diminutive, tənəs-kə́mtəks-pípa-háws.

I don’t find such a phrase mentioned in the old documentation of the Jargon.

But it fits the sometimes surprisingly complex structures of compound words in old-school Jargon.

And I’d guess there was indeed exactly that phrase in local Chinook Jargon of the Fort Vancouver area (Cowlitz country), which would have been the model for the Salish word.

A point of evidence in support of this claim: there were indeed old Chinuk Wawa expressions based on “paper house”. Father St. Onge’s big handwritten 1892 dictionary of lower Columbia CW has < pepa-hows > for ‘library’. The Quileute language of the central-to-northern Washington state coast has t̓à•diyát-ti, literally ‘paper-house’, meaning ‘post office’.

Remember, CW pipa primarily means ‘writing’, so both of the above are good indicators that “paper-house” was an established phrase in early Jargon.

A similar pipa loan gives more evidence: a definitely known old Jargon expression, nánich-pípa ‘to read’ (literally ‘see/look.at writing’), gave rise to Lower Cowlitz Salish & Upper Chehalis Salish ʔax̣étpipa ‘to read’ (having the identical literal meaning).

So, do you think we’ve found another “new old” Chinuk Wawa word here?

What if I told you that I’ve also turned up more evidence for pipa-haws meaning ‘school’, in the unrelated K’alapuyan languages? Stay tuned for “Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa in the “Kalapuya Texts” (part 4: Calques)” to see the details!

íkta máyka chaku-kə́mtəks?